Olympic officials are downplaying this week’s call to arms by a top Chechen rebel, who released a videotape urging Islamist militants to disrupt the upcoming Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Doku Umarov, leader of the Caucasus Emirate, told his broad coalition of Muslim fighters to “do their utmost to derail” the games, which he described as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.” “We are confident that the games will be safe and comfortable for all as guaranteed by the Russian state,” the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee said in a statement.
But such statements won’t be very comforting to the many countries sending teams to Sochi, and those investing in the Olympics, including developers racing to build a vast hotel and resort infrastructure to accommodate the huge crowds. Already, the pricetag for the games is estimated at $51 billion, making them by far the most expensive in history. Umarov’s statement, a reversal of his earlier call for a moratorium on violence, is sure to jack the price up significantly, experts say.
As Quartz has reported, the XXII Winter Games already posed the biggest security threat of any games in memory. The games, which will run from February 7th to the 23rd, are going to be held right in the middle of one of the world’s hottest conflict zones, a cauldron of Islamist militancy, ethnic hatred and anti-Russian separatist movements known as the North Caucasus. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has staked his reputation on ensuring the safety of the games. “Umarov’s message will cost a lot for Russia’s budget,” Pavel Felgengauer, an analyst who writes for Novaya Gazeta opposition paper, told Agence France-Presse. “There will be problems in Sochi.”
Umarov’s fighters are believed responsible for many terrorist attacks and plots in the region, including a 2010 Moscow metro bombing and a 2011 attack on the Domodedovo airport that, combined, killed 77 people. One reason his new comments are likely to resonate throughout the region: Umarov was talking quite literally when he said the games will be held on the bones of Muslims. Groups like No Sochi 2014 have been protesting the choice of Sochi for years, contending that the location of alpine events—Krasnaya Polyana, or Red Hill or Glade—gets its name from a 150-year-old genocide of local ethnic tribes known collectively as the Circassians. According to these critics—and, apparently, Umarov—the Circassians were routed and then deported by the 19th century Russian tsarist army during a campaign to pacify the region.